Friday, August 13, 2010

What's "Intention" Got To Do With It?

I was having this argument with another black guy about the words "racist" and "racism."

We were discussing the common white tendency to immediately have a freaking fit when those words become part of a conversation about race, and the idea that many white people consider those two words equivalent to the word "nigger."

We agreed that the words "racist" are "racism" weren't even closeto  "nigger," but we disagreed on something just as important. The other guy argued that we have to take someone's intentions into account when we're considering their actions, and that should have some bearing on whether we consider their actions or them "racist." I don't buy that logic.

Intentions are important. If somebody runs into my car on purpose, it feels far worse than if they hit me on accident. Same thing with hurtful comments. But, to be honest, whether it was purposeful or accidental, the final result is the same. My car is dinged up, and something hurtful and insensitive was said.

I thought about intentions recently when I came across two stories. The first was the story sweeping the nation about "Dr. Laura" and her love of the word nigger. The second story flew below the radar, but was just as important. It's about a Chicago comedian who may have been the victim of housing discrimination.

In both stories, the issue of intent is deemed crucial by some folks. Dr. Laura argues that she didn't "intend" to look like a Klansman with her spiel about the word nigger and how unfair it was that black folks have a word that white folks get criticized for using in a familiar or derogatory way. Nor was her comment that folks should steer clear of interracial relationships if they can't take a little racial humor from strangers any indication of deep-seated problems with black folks. Dr. Laura said her "intentions" were to do good, and not hurt, and that should be the most important thing.

In the other story, commenters on the story about housing discrimination note that it's impossible to tell what someone's "intentions" are if they refuse to sell you their home. You can't be certain they wouldn't sell because of race, even if their real estate agent admits that they didn't really want to sell to a black person. Since we don't know without a shadow of a doubt what these people's "intentions" were, they shouldn't be sued or punished for their actions.

That's the problem with "intentions," they're really, REALLY difficult to tie down. If you slap me in the face, and call me a stupid nigger, it would appear to me that my slap was somehow connected to the color of my skin. But, you could argue that it was really about the fact that I stepped on your foot and refused to apologize, and you just called me a nigger because that's what some black people call each other all the time. So, since you didn't "intend" to be racist, it wasn't racist and you're not a racist.

Got it?

Only, that doesn't make sense. You don't get to dictate the impact and effect of your actions on other people. Nor, do you get to whip out the "intentions" card in order to invalidate the criteria of racism or discrimination. If your action qualifies as racism, then that's what it is. And, as someone who is committing an act of racism, you are a racist. That's the way things work.

If you lie, you're a liar. If you steal, you're a thief. It doesn't mean that's all you are and it doesn't mean that's all you'll ever be. It doesn't mean that you have to pay a penalty for those mistakes every day for the rest of your life. But, your intentions don't change the fact that you lied, or that you stole. No matter what your reasons may have been, you still committed those actions.

Too often people want to talk about intentions because they can always convince themselves that they had "good intentions." Well you know what the old cliche says about the concrete on the road to hell, right?

It's made from a blend of good intentions and tears.



Thordaddy said...

ravin' black lunatic,

All that was said about someone's "intentions" not necessarily defining the effect on the "victim" can be said for the "victimization" of said action. We don't really know if anyone was "victimized" in your two stories. It is just assumed because the "victims" are non-white. To allow a "victim" of someone's "action" DEFINE the "intention" of that action is also self-evidently troublesome. So troublesome is this "right to be victim regardless of intention" that it allows you to "understand" when a black man mass murders many whiteys.

Imhotep said...

I’ve heard it said, that America need to have a conversation about race. Well, that recent episode on Laura’s show with caller Jade, is a clear example how that conversation would transpire, and have transpired in the past.

Jade is Black America, Laura is white America. Jade calls in to talk about some racist shit that happening in her home and involves her husband, and that she is frustrated with the whole thing. In true white America form Laura ignores Jades thoughts and concerns and tells Jade that she is overreacting, and too sensitive to whites uttering the nword. And if she is so sensitive, she should stick to her own race. To Laura, Jade’s feelings does not matter, and it’s ok if whites drop the nbomb whenever they see fit, and Jade’s husband, friends and family can casually call her a nigger and she should be cool with it.

Laura then dropped the Obama card, said we have a Black president, many whites voted for him, so see no racism here. Jade points out accurately that it was mainly the young whites who voted for the brother. Laura unable to refute the point, characterizes Jade as a person (Black) with a chip on her shoulder! The sista calls in for some advice on some insensitive shit in her home, she ends up being chastise for not putting up with stereotypes and not allowing the nword to flow freely in her home from the mouths of her neighbors and family. How can you have a conversation with someone who don’t care what you have to say, don’t care about your feelings or your existence? ain’t no conversation to be had under those conditions.

Bitch Laura, I can say bitch! The comedians on HBO say bitch all the time, see bitch! Bitch! Biatcheee! When Jade start to call Laura on her racist ass, Laura shows her true colors (lily white, pale white, casper white) Laura say “don’t NAACP me” WTF !!! That comment right there told me how Laura feels about Black people and those who have fought for our civil liberties and rights.. And by extension how white America feels about us. Don’t Jesse Jackson me, don’t NAACP me. I want my country back!

By the end of the conversation the sista is hurt. No progress made, the sista’s position not respected, her words not valued, and in fact is portrayed as the angry black woman who is always complaining. America is Laura, a hateful, insufferable white bitch!

Thank God the call ended when it did, another 10 seconds and laura would have claimed reverse racism. Sista’s first mistake was to believe that white people care, some do but most are like Laura, they don’t want to be NAACP’d into doing the right thing.

Anna Renee said...

What burns my ass is that black folks give a hot damn about someone like Laura Schlessinger and her opinions. It's past time for black people to not give a f*@%
about what a racist says. We are just empowering them when we whine and moan about their calling us names! Let's pretend: What would happen if black people would just go poker faced when white folks start with the name calling? If we would simply not respond in any way shape or form? Just let them call us whatever nick nack patty wack name they want? Would we lose something? WE have given too damned much power to this stupid word! It doesn't even have a definition, people!! We should all simply unplug from this "name" because we are all acting like fools by jumping everytime someone uses it. Sigh!!

Anonymous said...

"the common white tendency to immediately have a freaking fit..."

See how easy it is to begin *stereotyping*...??

Anonymous said...

"the common white tendency to immediately have a freaking fit..."

See how easy it is to begin *stereotyping*...??

lifelearner said...

Go ahead Imhotep with your bad self (for the non-Black folks, bad means good in this reference)

LOL, definitely need to save this commentary for my own use! Love it, couldn't agree with you more!

Big Man said...


Actually, that's called a generalization, not a stereotype. There is a difference. And yes, generalizations are quite easy to use, and can be valid depending on the topic.

For example, it's a generalization to say that black men are typically arrested for dealing crack cocaine, but it's also a fact.

It's a generalization to say that black women don't typically breastfeed, but it's also a fact.

It's a generalization that white people have a fit when they are called racists, but it's also a fact.

See how that works.

Anna Renee

Nah, people understand they can't go around calling people kikes, or fags, or bitches, or spics, or guidos, or any other slur for any other group, regardless of whether members of that group use said slur among themselves.

That means that people understand how this whole slur thing works, they just don't want to follow the rules when it comes to black people. So, since they expect us to follow the rules, we need to expect them to follow the rules. That's the way is should work.

Tit for Tat said...


Does that mean youre Racist?

Big Man said...

Tit for Tat

Does making a generalization based on race qualify as racism?

You tell me your thoughts.

Tit for Tat said...

Depends RBL, what are your intentions when you do it?

Big Man said...

So, if it's all about my intentions, why would you even ask if it made me a racist?

T.A.N. Man said...

Good stuff.

Anonymous got ripped a new one.

"You don't get to dictate the impact and effect of your actions on other people." ... Hmmm ... Now, why does that sound familiar? I know I've heard that before, somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks.

Raving Black Lunatic